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How The Paleo Diet Affects ADHD

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The Paleo Diet, a term coined in the 1970's, is a diet consisting of meat, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, and closely resembles the diet of our ancient ancestors. This article explores the link between our dietary health and ADHD and how the Paleo Diet of our distant past may be of use to us in the present.

What is the Paleo diet?

The Paleo diet has been around since the 1970s and has seen a recent spike in popularity as people continually search for more organic and natural foods. It was actually the top-searched diet on Google in 2013 and remains popular today. Sometimes called the caveman diet, the Paleo diet is based on the nutrition of our ancestors during the Paleolithic era of history, around 2.6 million years ago.

The general idea is that we can become our healthiest by eating similarly to our ancestors who evolved into us. Our ancestors were largely hunter-gatherers who ate meat from the animals they hunted, as well as some kinds of vegetation.

As a result, the Paleo diet is free from grains, dairy, excess sugar, and other kinds of processed food that isn't present in our ancestors' diets. Cavemen were not able to bake bread and coagulate cheeses, so how can our bodies be expected to have evolved to process these foods?

The Paleo diet encourages the consumption of organic meats and veggies, including foods such as fruits, vegetables, herbs, beef, lamb, fish, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils.

Many people from developed nations rely on highly processed and non-natural foods, and the Paleo diet expressly forbids grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugars, potatoes, alcohol, food additives, and preservatives; basically, anything that you can't find naturally growing or roaming around the planet without human intervention.

Recent interest in Paleo traits

The 1970's Paleo diet (even if it is not named so specifically) has seen a recent spike in popularity. Diets free from additives and processed foods are continually emerging as a means of preventing the behavioral problems associated with ADHD. Some studies gravitate towards the use of omega supplements and iron supplements to control ADHD, whereas others aim at reducing sugar, eliminating additives, eliminating fatty acids, and eliminating foods (such as gluten) that many humans are intolerant towards.

What's interesting is that the Paleo diet is being talked about here without the researchers necessarily realizing. The Paleo diet, by its very nature, eliminates additives, reduces sugar, eliminates many intolerant foods, and boosts natural levels of omega and iron. Research continually suggests, then, that the Paleo diet leads to reduced behavioral problems in ADHD sufferers.

One expert, Richard Sogn, MD, says that whatever is good for the brain is likely to be good for ADHD. He goes on to suggest that foods rich in protein, complex carbohydrates, and omega-3 fatty acids are likely to be good for brains (and thus good for ADHD). Once again, these are all nutritional traits that are embraced and enhanced by a Paleo diet.

Processed Foods and ADHD

There has long been a debate about the link between processed foods consumption and hyperactivity and bad behavior in children, especially in those diagnosed with ADHD. Food colorings such as quinoline yellow, allura red, and sunset yellow FCF are included in many processed foods such as soft drinks, cakes, candy, and ice cream, with evidence from the UK's National Health Service suggesting that these artificial additives cause children with ADHD to become hyperactive and struggle with their concentration.

This idea about certain foods being linked to ADHD and behavioral problems is mimicked across many sections of the modern food industry, with ADHD sufferers being shown to become fidgety and hyperactive upon consuming various processed junk foods.

Some researchers have argued that the sugary and processed foods are simply exaggerating and amplifying the normal behavior of small children (who tend to be unruly by nature) and that ADHD itself is simply the result of improper diet during a child's developmental stages. 

Could ADHD literally be caused by a typical and unhealthy Western diet? The debate rages on.

Sugar Consumption and ADHD

High levels of artificial sugar (which are not found in a Paleo diet) are frequently associated with ADHD and behavioral problems. Snacks with high sugar content cause a huge secretion of insulin from one's pancreas, leading to hypoglycemia a dip in blood sugar.

This causes a spike in one's epinephrine, leading to a hormone-induced activation of the nervous system and bout of hyperactivity that children find difficult to tame and control. Sugary snacks may thus lead to this hormonal imbalance which causes kids to become hyperactive, as well as exhibiting ADHD symptoms and lower levels of emotional intelligence.

A recent study suggested that higher consumption of sugar leads to higher levels of attention deficiency and hyperactivity, symptoms reminiscent of ADHD. A study conducted at Yale University also indicated that high-sugar diets may increase in attention in some children who already have ADHD.

This is all a bit controversial, however, with some researchers arguing that the effects of sugar on children are simply based on the temporary energy-boosting effects that sugar has by its very nature, arguing that children are naturally energetic and that a boost in sugar simply leads to their natural energy being amplified further.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has proposed that 10% or less of our daily calories should come from sugar, though many developed nations easily surpass these numbers. 

The Paleo diet is designed to be an alternative to this high-sugar diet that is common in the West, serving as a more natural diet that is conducive to health and normal energy levels.

Many studies have found that a regular diet, regular meals, and a high intake of vegetables can lead to less attention and behavioral problems. Many diets are deficient in key vitamins, minerals, and fats that may improve attention and alertness, says Richard Brown, M.D. 

He suggests that those with ADHD should undergo testing for nutritional deficiencies. According to Brown, supplements and diet can correct nutrient shortfalls that exacerbate ADHD symptoms.

ADHD Impulsivity and Diet

Those following a Paleo Diet are required to have strict self-control and it comes to their meals, as creating tasty organic meals requires a certain amount of finesse, preparation, and cooking skills. These concentration and patience skills are not commonly found in ADHD sufferers, which is a reason that is often given for their high rates of obesity.

ADHD sufferers, as well as their behavioral problems, tend to have high rates of obesity. Contrary to popular belief, rather than using their excess energy to burn off calories, ADHD sufferers tend to excessively binge on high-calorie processed foods due to their impatient temperaments. If undergoing a bout of attention deficiency, an ADHD sufferer will often opt for a quick processed snack rather than an organic meal, which leads to further health problems.

Many ADHD sufferers also tend to skip breakfast at the start of the day, leading to a nosedive in their metabolism as the day continues. This leads to intense cravings for unhealthy non-Paleo foods and high-fat, high-carb, high-sugar foods such as sandwiches, pizzas, cookies, and more. 

ADHD sufferers following a regular Paleo meal plan are not only likely to curb their behavioral problems, but they're also likely to reduce their chances of obesity too!

Final thoughts

Though no direct research has been conducted on the Paleo Diet and ADHD overall, many facets of the Paleo diet have been shown to have beneficial effects on attention and behavioral problems. Numerous studies credit diets that are low in sugar, free from additives, and high in vegetables as being good for ADHD and its symptoms. Though Paleo isn't specifically mentioned, its ethos of natural, organic foods and a lack of processed foods or additives is echoed throughout most of the studies.

In conclusion, there is a wealth of evidence to suggest that a Paleo diet can have positive effects on ADHD, allowing children and adults with ADHD to experience fewer behavioral problems and attention problems as a result. However, research surrounding ADHD and processed foods continue to be controversial, with many scientists disagreeing about the results. Nonetheless, a Paleo diet is a great way to keep yourself lean and healthy, taking inspiration from our ancestors and their diets.

Whether it helps with ADHD or not, a Paleo diet is a good diet for anyone who wants to be healthy and organic.

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